COP26: A Summary

Who's there, who isn't and what are we expecting to be addressed before the summit ends...
09 November 2021

Interview with 

Neil Jennings, The Grantham Institute Imperial College London




Someone who has access to theexclusive blue zone at the summit, where national agreements and pledges are decieded, is Neil Jennings from the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London. He told Harry Lewis what’s been happening...

Neil - There's a sense of cautious optimism at COP at the moment, they've been progressing in a number of different areas over the first few days with a week and a half to go. So obviously there's still a number of things that would need to be sorted out. The world's leaders were here for the first couple of days. The delegates are working their way through it. And a number of different agenda points, looking at areas around adaptation to climate change, how developing countries are compensated for damage that they experienced as a result of climate change, and then finalizing the kind of the nuts and bolts, the nitty gritty about how individual countries are going to have to report on their emission reductions, there's talk of that being more frequent.

Harry - You spoke about the world leaders coming here who has turned up?

Neil - The majority of the big players have turned up. So Joe Biden was here, Boris Johnson, latest in the European union and the majority of countries around the world. The key people who haven't attended is the Chinese leader and the Russian leader. Having said that from China, for example, there were upgraded pledges in terms of emission reductions a number of months ago, the majority of the world's leaders have been here for the first couple of days, but there are some notable absentees.

Harry - Bolsonaro is not there either. You've mentioned Putin. How important is that?

Neil - It varies. There have been, in the absence of these leaders, pledges that have involved their countries. So for example, there is a new pledge around deforestation, the plans to reverse deforestation by 2030, and which includes Brazil in that, even though they're not here in practice. There has also been pledges made round methane reductions, which was led by the U S which didn't include China and Russia and new announcements and 40 countries pledging to phase out coal, which included countries like Poland and Vietnam, but didn't include China and Australia and the US

Harry - Would you be able to give us a taste of what they are, the agreements that have been made so far?

Neil - One of the new pledges that came out early in the negotiations was around methane. This was a pledge led by the United States to cut emissions of methane by 30% by 2030. And methane's a really important gas because it's very potent. Compared to carbon dioxide, a molecule of methane will trap about 30 times more heat in the atmosphere over a hundred year period. So cutting methane in the short term is a really important thing to do to reduce near-term rises in global temperatures. The initial estimates for this new pledge is that it could help to reduce global temperature rise by about 0.2 degrees by the mid part of this century. So these are important pledges, be it with some caveats that while America is leading the way are you involved? It doesn't at the moment include China, Russia, and India. So there will need to be some kind of diplomacy and engagement with other countries to bring more countries on board. And of course there's one thing, having a pledge. There's another thing which is delivering on that pledge.

Harry - Does it feel like to you, Neil, that there's any elephants in the room? Does it feel like there's something at COP that we aren't addressing, that we should be addressing?

Neil - Some of the things which are going to be discussed in the next week and a half or so, will also involve climate adaptation, how societies would be better prepared for a warming climate. The way that finance is transferred, particularly from the more affluent countries of the world to countries, which are particularly affected by climate change, so they are more resilient. The thing has been the elephant in the room for a while has been this pledge that was made by the most affluent countries of the world back in 2009, where they pledged that by 2020, they would deliver a hundred billion dollars of climate finance a year to support countries to be developing in a way which avoided the kind of dirty phase of industrialisation that we went through in the UK back in the 1800s. That pledge was supposed to be over a hundred billion a year, and the value was more like 80 billion a year. The one thing that's happened just recently, which is a new kind of agreement between South Africa and France, Germany, the UK, America and the European union to support South Africa with something like 6 billion pounds to move away from coal to actually develop their economy in a way which isn't reliant upon a dirty fossil fuel. And that's good for climate change in terms of reducing emissions, but it's also very good in terms of health.

Harry - Towards the end of COP are we expecting any big agreements or any headlines to emerge from the conference?

Neil - Difficult to say at this stage, whether we're going to see any kind of big, big announcements at the end of it? I think the key thing to say is the progress that we've had so far. After Paris, the countries of the world asked to submit nationally determined contributions of what they would do in terms of their emissions, and that was putting us on course for a three degree world three degrees warmer than before the industrial revolution. With the new pledges that have been put forward, that value has come down to around two degrees. That's still not enough to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, but we've come a long way already. But also the key thing with all of this is pledges are one thing, delivery is another. We really need to be ensuring that our elected officials are being held to account to assure that the pledges that have been made are actually delivered.

Harry - Thanks to Neil Jennings currently on the ground at COP26 in Glasgow, and Neil will actually be joining us live later on the program to talk about potential solutions to some of the consequences of climate change that are being highlighted at this year's summit.


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